When women are walking through the personal care aisle, they have more on their mind than just the price—increasingly, shoppers are taking note of the environmental, ecological and health effects associated with feminine hygiene products, according to a recent report from Market Watch (1). Looking specifically at the organic and natural tampons market, a press release on the report points out that growth is mainly driven by the increasing awareness about the harmful effects of plastic pollution. What’s more, women are seeking out products that do not contain potentially harmful chemicals. These growing concerns are driving the organic and natural tampon market, which Market Watch reports is expected to have a CAGR of nearly 9% through 2023.
Answering the call for healthier, more sustainable options, manufacturers are offering plant-based and -infused feminine products. Here’s a look at a few of the options helping consumers make the healthy shift.
Pads & Tampons
Some conventional feminine hygiene products can expose users to pesticides because of the cotton used to make them, according to the article “Toxic Tampons” by Alex Scranton, Director of Science and Research at Women’s Voices for the Earth, an environmental organization that specializes in researching toxic chemicals (2). Also, some products may contain toxic dioxins because they are bleached with chlorine. According to Scranton, exposure to dioxins is linked to cancer and reproductive harm (2).
Another concern: “For many patients with sensitive skin, the dyes and perfumes in regular commercial pads can be irritating and abrasive,” explained ob-gyn Jennifer Wu, M.D., in the Cosmopolitan article “11 Organic Pads Your Bathroom Cabinet Needs” by Carina Hsieh (3). Dr. Wu said she often suggests organic pads because they have few additives and dyes.
More women are also looking to avoid plastic tampon applicators. As Huffington Post writer Dominique Mosbergen explains in “5 Ways To Make Your Period Better For The Environment,” plastic applicators are damaging to the planet because they take centuries to break down and require large amounts of fossil fuel to produce (4). Fortunately, plant-based applicators offer an alternative. A variety of organic tampon brands are creating 92% plant-based tampons made from sugar cane.
Lubricants & Moisturizers
If lube has high osmolality or high pH levels, it can have harmful effects, according to ob-gyn Jen Gunter, M.D. As Dr. Gunter cautions in her blog, high pH levels in vaginal lubricants can throw off the natural pH level of the vagina, which could cause a bacterial or yeast infection (5). “If the osmolality of the lube is greater than the vaginal tissues, water will move out of the vaginal tissues,” Dr. Gunter explains. “This dries the vaginal lining (mucosa) leading to irritation and potentially micro abrasions from the friction of sex. This can paradoxically cause pain with sex as well as increases the risk of sexually transmitted infection (STI) transmission.” Dr. Gunter recommends natural lubes like those with coconut oil and olive oil (5).
Women interested in plant-based lubricants can also consider products containing Pueraria mirifica, which has been shown to provide significant relief for menopausal symptoms, menstrual symptoms and also works as a natural vaginal lubricant, according to Christiane Northrup, M.D., in her blog post “Herbs To Relieve Menopause Symptoms” (6).
Most menopausal symptoms are caused by hormonal imbalance; P. mirifica contains phytoestrogens that counteract menopausal symptoms, according to Dr. Northrup (6). She says the plant, which is available in vaginal lubricants as well as in supplements, also can help with menstruation symptoms, natural vaginal lubrication, reproductive health, skin collagen and bone health. (For more on P. mirifica, read this month’s Vitamin Connection, “Building Strong Bones during menopause and post-menopause with P. mirifica: An Interview with Professor Suchinda Malaivijitnond, Ph.D.”)
“I never advise patients to use chemical feminine washes or soaps in the vaginal area or inside the vaginal canal,” stresses ob-gyn Aarti Mehta, M.D., founder of Adne Institute and Aloo, in the article “Feminine Wash: Experts Debunk the Myths” by Dr. Renjie Chang (7). Dr. Mehta explains that the chemical irritants can increase the risk for infection, lead to allergic reactions, and cause vaginal dryness. Dr. Renjie Chang adds that the vagina is self-cleaning, and women shouldn’t spend too much time using harsh chemicals and soaps on their most sensitive body part.
Gynecologists Kameelah Phillips, M.D., and Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., agree that washing the vagina with harsh soaps can affect the pH level of the vagina and could increase the risk of infection, irritation and STDs, according to “5 Vagina-Friendly Cleansing Products That Gynecologists Don’t Hate” by Healthline writer Gabrielle Kessel (8). “You want to use a product that’s the least toxic and least likely to contain potentially allergenic ingredients around the vulva and vagina,” Dr. Minkin explained. Natural soaps or wipes that don’t have toxic perfumes or affect pH levels are best (8).
In addition to what is not on the ingredients list, consumers are looking for products that offer healthy ingredients—options containing ingredients like coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, and lavender and eucalyptus oil, said to cleanse while delivering soothing benefits. Some products contain ingredients like colloidal silver to help fight bad bacteria. WF